Virginia says governor is assessing circumstances of crimes to decide whether to restore felons’ right to vote

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — As Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin ponders whether to restore the civil rights of convicted felons who have served their time, he is considering at least some of the circumstances of their crimes, said Monday his administration in a letter. at the state’s NAACP.

The Republican governor is “less likely to quickly restore the franchise to anyone who used a gun to commit a crime,” Commonwealth Secretary Kay Coles James wrote to NAACP Virginia State Conference President Robert Barnette Jr. .

Youngkin will also work “generally, but not always” to restore the franchise to those who have committed non-violent crimes, James said in the letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press.

In Virginia, a felony conviction automatically results in the loss of certain rights such as voting, serving on a jury, running for office, or carrying a firearm. The governor has the discretion to restore them, with the exception of gun rights, which only a court can do.

Youngkin’s handling of the process has come under scrutiny for several months after his administration confirmed it had moved away from an at least partially automatic rollback system used by its predecessors. At least two lawsuits have been filed challenging what critics call an opaque process that could lead to discrimination.

Last week, the NAACP said documents obtained through public records requests ‘reveal a lack of clear standards and timelines’ that creates a confusing system ‘full of opportunity for discriminatory impact on Black Virginians. and other colored Virginians”.

In a statement, the group also said the restoration process was working at an “increasingly slow pace”, potentially preventing thousands of people from participating in the next election.

Monday’s letter from James, whose office oversees the restorations, strongly denied both allegations. He accused the NAACP of implying that decisions are made on the basis of race and said there was no reference anywhere in the application process to ‘race, religion or ethnicity’ .

“Governor Youngkin and I guarantee that these factors play absolutely no role in the process or the serious decisions we make on behalf of returning citizens,” James said.

In the meantime, the administration has “made serious progress in reducing wait times” and is working to increase transparency, she added.

Representatives of the NAACP could not immediately be reached for comment on the letter. The organization has planned to hold a press conference on Tuesday.

According to a lawsuit filed last month, Virginia is the state with the fifth-highest number of citizens disenfranchised for felony convictions – more than 312,000.

Black Virginians make up less than 20% of the state’s voting-age population, but make up nearly half of all those disenfranchised due to a felony conviction, according to the lawsuit.

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